Each country seems to have its own phrase that isn’t directly translatable into English. In Italy, there’s ‘abiocco’: drowsiness after eating a big meal (we’re looking at you, post-Christmas lunch carb coma!). Afrikaans has the expression ‘padkos’, food taken on a road trip and Malay has ‘teguk’, to drink from a bottle in huge gulps. In Denmark, that untranslatable word is ‘hygge’.
Pronounced ‘hooga’, the Nordic phrase is even harder to define than it is to say! If the word reminds you of a big, warm hug, you’re actually not too far off. Hygge can be loosely translated to the sensation of cosiness. But it’s more than just a feeling: it’s a concept that plays a huge defining role in Danish day-to-day life.
You see, in Denmark the winters are long and very, very cold. Sometimes, it’s dark outside from 4 pm through to 9 am! Yet somehow, Danes are consistently ranked in the top 5 happiest people on earth. How? Well, it’s safe to say hygge has a lot to do with it. It’s about finding comfort and serenity in the simple things. American writer Suzanne Nilsson who spent three years living in Denmark defines it as “the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things.”
Burning a vanilla candle while you soak in a bubble bath is hygge. So is sitting around the dinner table with family or reading a great book under a cozy blanket on the lounge. If it all sounds very Pinterest or Instagram-worthy, that’s because it is. In fact, a whole sub-culture of hygge Instagrammers and bloggers has emerged out of Denmark. A quick Instagram search of #hygge brings up countless pics of roaring fires, mugs of hot chocolate and cosy and Scandinavian-style bedrooms. But hygge isn’t just about material things: it’s about basking in the company of loved ones.
There’s actually nothing new about hygge: the term has been around in Denmark since the 18th century. But its only recently that the concept has found its way into the rest of the world. This year, a flurry of hygge guides like The Little Book of Hygge have been released. There’s even a Hygge Bakery in LA, which specialises in Danish breads, cakes and pastries.
The good news is, you don’t have to live in a Game Of Thrones-esque climate to enjoy the benefits of hygge (thank god). The lifestyle trend is just as good for spicing up your summer as it is banishing the winter blues!
Here are some simple ways to add hygge to your life, even in the middle of summer!
No, we’re not suggesting you take up smoking! Danes burn more candles per head than anywhere else in the world and it’s not hard to see why. Adding candlelight is the perfect way to up the comfort level in your bedroom, dining setting and (depending on your office’s safety policy), even your workplace. Think a beautiful scented oil candle for your home and tealights for hanging out on the balcony with friends on balmy summer nights. Bliss!
Another popular Nordic tradition is ‘fika’: taking the time to have a coffee break. This is usually accompanied by a baked good or pastry and often involves informally meeting a friend. Yep, this is one tradition we can definitely get behind! Making time for fika is so important in Sweden, it’s often written into employment contracts! The tradition is a simple way to add some hygge to your everyday life, even if it’s just taking a 15-minute break with a colleague for a latte and a raw treat.
The hygge view of exercise is that it should be done for leisure and enjoyment, not as a chore! Find ways to make your fitness routine more sociable, whether it’s playing a game of beach volleyball or backyard cricket with friends or joining a sports team. Not only will you burn off your ‘fika’ without even thinking about it, you’ll reap the mental benefits of spending time with others. Win win!
The average Dane leaves work at 4pm, which is practically unheard of here in Australia! Don’t assume this makes them slackers, though, as Denmark is actually ranked the second most productive country in Europe. That’s because they’re not racing home to binge-watch Netflix for six hours, they’re prioritising their hobbies and spending time with friends and family. This makes them happier in the long term which actually improves their performance at work. While we’re not recommending you rush off before your formal clock-off time, leaving on time will add work/life balance to your life and increase your sense of hygge.